Saw a Bug! Pest-Free Garden Update

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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A couple years ago there used to be a television commercial where a woman screams, “Saw a bug!” and then she immediately calls an exterminator. Well, that is me in the garden. The other day I saw a potato bug and that started the ball rolling because, as we all know, seeing one bug means that soon that one bug will turn into a gazillion…however many that is.

Three years ago, I decided that if I was going to have a garden, I was going to control bugs, critters and weeds organically. I wanted to return to the days that we could pick a fruit or vegetable off the vine and eat it right then and there, when it tastes the freshest and not worry about pesticides or other chemicals. Needless to say, I met with a lot of guffaws and skepticism.

I am happy to say that my mission is accomplished and I will proudly put my garden up against any one that is laden with chemicals. My plants are healthy and disease- and pretty much pest-free…there are always a few stray bugs that die hard.

It took a lot of trial and error to get to this point and I am happy to share what I have learned, hoping it enlightens others that there is a better way to garden by getting back to basics. Let’s start with the potato bugs. Bonide makes a number of organic insect sprays that are made with naturally-occurring ingredients. The active ingredient in Colorado Potato Beetle Spray is Spinosad which is a natural substance made by a soil bacterium that is toxic to insects. It kills the adult bugs, as well as the larvae.

For non-specific insect control, I use Organicide which is an insecticide, miticide and fungicide all in one. It is safe to use on most all plants, so I buy the concentrate and use it on all my garden plants as well as flowers. It is nice not to have to spray three different products to get this same effect. To date, I don’t have fungal problems, even with the extra wet conditions we have had this year. It also keeps the bugs from munching on all the greenery. It is nice not to find holes eaten in all the plants’ leaves when I walk into the garden.

Last year, because I was away, I didn’t stay ahead of the squash bugs and they basically took over the entire crop. This year I started when the plants were just small and sprayed them with a natural product made with pyrethrum, also called pyrethrim. BEWARE here, these two are not interchangeable. Pyrethrum is a safe, effective and environmentally safe garden insecticide that is made from certain species of the chrysanthemum. Pyrethrim, on the other hand, is a synthetic, man-made insecticide whose chemical structure is based on natural pyrethrum. It is not as safe for humans and pets as its natural cousin is.

Next year I plan to go one step further and grow my own. Pyrethrum daisies can be started from seed or established plants. Interspersing them in the garden provides a natural insect barrier and you get gorgeous white flowers with yellow centers to boot. The flowers can also be dried and used as a dust for repelling insects. The active ingredient attacks the nervous system of insects but not humans or pets.

This year, after using this natural squash bug insecticide, I have pest-free plants that are producing fruit with no harmful pesticides.

Bugs are a big concern in gardens, but so are other critters. After all, I do plant the vegetables for our use and not to feed all the uninvited guests. Rabbits were eating my lettuce, carrot tops and other greenery. I bought a huge bottle of cayenne pepper for a little under $8 and have been dusting my greenery with it. If it has not rained or there is no dew, I sprinkle the plants with a little water and then add the pepper so it adheres better. No more eaten leaves. I guess the bunnies are not fans of spicy foods, however I would love to be there to see their reaction when they take their first bite of the “seasoned” greenery!

Now for my even bigger problem, deer. Not only were they eating my plants, but they were also trampling them as they meandered through the garden. After some research, I stumbled across an approach that different folks swear worked for them. So, I gave it a try.

I put 7-foot steel T-posts around the perimeter of the garden, leaving about 10 feet between each one. I positioned them inside the garden far enough that I could still take my Mantis mini tiller around the outside of the posts to keep weeds down. Then I strung four strands of 30-weight fishing line taut between the posts. After that, I hung some aluminum pie tins on the fishing line close to the posts to create noise when the wind blew.

For my gate, I simply strung four strands of 3-foot sections of fishing line from my first post to a steel rod. The rod can be shoved in the ground with the string taut to “close the gate” and easily picked up and swung back to “open the gate.” I positioned one of these on both sides of the garden and directly inside of my gates I hung a wind chime for extra insurance.

So many folks told me I was wasting my time, but as of date, the fence is still up and there have been no deer stopping by for dessert. The theory behind why this works is that the deer cannot see the fishing line so, when they run into it, it scares them. I have deer prints right up to the ‘fence” and they stop there.

The nice part about this solution is that it is easy to take down in the fall and to put up again in the spring as opposed to a regular fence. I might add that it is much cheaper too and it only took three hours to install.  Who’s laughing now!

I do love my garden and enjoy all the bounty that it gives. I am so thankful that, with a little ingenuity and research, there are ways to control insects and other critters from taking it over without using so many chemicals. There are many brands on the market that use natural ingredients, so there are choices out there. To me, eating fresh means eating chemical and pesticide free. It’s not about what is trending, but rather it is about what is right for our health and getting back to basics.

It may be easier to grab the first chemical on the hardware shelves to control pests, but there is a satisfaction in knowing that you are taking a little more initiative and doing what is best for you, the plants, the environment and even the critters. That commercial that proclaims, “Saw a bug,” not in my garden!

Images courtesy of Lois Hoffman           

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